Experiencing domestic violence as students
6:46 p.m. PDT October 30, 2015
One in 15 children are exposed to domestic violence annually in the United States, and 90 percent of those children are eyewitnesses to the violence.
Those statistics come from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), which concludes that the impact of such exposure can range from economic turmoil to physical and mental trauma.
But what do children and students do when they are survivors, victims or witnesses to domestic violence?
Salem-Keizer organizers, workers and volunteers are working to provide the resources and safe space children and their families need when dealing with domestic violence.
Domestic violence is defined by the Department of Justice as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.”
Physical, mental, and sexual and reproductive health effects have been linked with intimate partner violence, according to the NCADV, including adolescent pregnancy, unintended pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, intrauterine hemorrhage, nutritional deficiency, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal problems, neurological disorders, chronic pain, disability, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as noncommunicable diseases such as hypertension, cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Additionally, victims of domestic violence are at higher risk for developing addictions to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
The Center for Hope and Safety, previously known as Mid-Valley Women’s Crisis Service, is an organization that has worked to serve victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking since 1973, according to their website. The center is one of the main resources available to Salem-Keizer students.
“Our work always centers around safety,” said Jayne Downing, executive director of the Center for Hope and Safety in Salem.
To date, the Center for Hope and Safety has received more than 277,000 calls to their crisis line alone.
The 24-hour crisis line offers emergency help. The line is available in English and Spanish, in addition to 140 other languages.
“We want to reduce as many barriers as possible,” Downing said.
Each crisis hotline operator has gone through a minimum of 50 hours of training to be able to address the needs of the caller.
Crisis lines such as these are crucial to the safety of survivors. On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide, according to the NCADV.
In addition to the hotline, the center offers many other services.
Their safe shelter hosts 300 to 400 people each year, approximately 50 percent of whom are children. The center provides extensive case management services for each person, school supplies, clothes and anything else they need, Downing said.
The center also holds support groups in Salem and Woodburn, in both English and Spanish, for youth and adults. They will begin offering support groups in schools soon.
They also provide free child care for kids 10 years old and younger. This child care is much more therapeutic than traditional child care, Downing said, which helps the children to process and heal.
Other services available from the center include one-on-one services for any one who walks in Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 p.m., a children’s room, a youth and teen room, and more.
The Center for Hope and Safety also has a youth service coordinator who visits with nearly 3,000 to 4,000 students every year by teaching classes and training sessions on domestic violence awareness and prevention.
There has been a 1000 percent increase in the number of students who utilize the center’s services since this position began making visits to local schools.
Downing said this is because students are exposed to the services and may think, “This is a resource I could really use.”
The number of people who are exposed to and survive domestic violence every year can be astounding.
The NCADV reports that every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted or beaten, and that in one year more than 10 million men and women are physically abused by an intimate partner. Whether as children, teens or adults, one in three women and one in four men have been victims of some kind of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
The effects of such abuse can be substantial, especially on children and young students.
“It presents some incredible challenges,” Downing said.
Downing said that such trauma can make it very difficult for students to focus on their school work and they can react in different ways.
“They might start acting out — they are scared and they don’t know where to turn,” she said. “They might focus in on their studies more since it is the only place they feel they can focus, or maybe they think (the violence) is their fault. They might think, ‘If I am good at something, it will make things better.'”
Downing stressed that domestic violence is never the fault of the victim. She said that many of these children are incredibly resilient in their lives.
Research shows that children who have one safe parent still taking care of them and supporting them allows them to be more resilient, she added.
Downing said the safe parents call the center many times trying to find ways to help their child heal.
If a child does not have a safe parent, the center helps the child come up with a safety plan. Many times the only person the child feels safe with is a teacher or school counselor.
Counselors also help with stalking and relationship abuse that may be caused by another youth. However, since students are more likely to report these abuses to another youth than to an adult, organizers are training students to be helpful and resourceful peers so they know where to go if a friend comes to them looking for help.
Some parents and children call into the center while still in a dangerous situation, some call in after they have gotten to safety. Downing said it varies because it isn’t an over-night change.
“The act of leaving is not an event,” she said. “It’s a process.”
There are many factors, such as economic dependency, that may cause a survivor to stay in a dangerous environment.
The Center for Hope and Safety works to provide any and all people who call in with the best resources and help they can that the person needs and wants at their point in the process.
Downing said even when the survivors are able to get away, the abusers may possibly still be in their lives, especially as young children.
She said that many of the students are worried they will grow up and be the same way.
To ensure victims and survivors have a safe space to report to and go, whether they are still in dangerous situations or not, the center is not a mandatory reporter. This means they are not required to report to state authorities of a known issue.
However, the center does partner with many offices, such as child welfare and the school district, to make sure each survivor is provided the resources she or he needs or wants to pursue further action. All Salem-Keizer School District employees are mandatory reporters and must report to the police or the Department of Human Services.
The district is also required by state law to provide a certain level of education on the subject.
Senate Bill 856, for instance, establishes child sexual abuse prevention, instructional programs for public schools. The bill went into effect June 11, 2015. By the end of the 2015-16 academic year, the entire district will be in compliance with the bill.
Trisha Ebbs, a teacher at McNary High School and health program assistant for the district, said these laws make sure the schools have age-appropriate materials for all grades.
“The curriculum helps students recognize dangerous situations, teaches them how to speak up and advocate for themselves, and where they can go for help,” Ebbs said.
In addition to the aforementioned services, Salem has a handful of other resources to help survivors of domestic violence, including but not limited to the Liberty house, for abused children; Bridgeway Recovery Services, for drug addiction; and NW Human Service’s HOST, a shelter for teens who have run away from home.
npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745 or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate
Help and Additional Information
For domestic violence emergencies, call the center’s 24-hour hotline at (503)399-7722. The center’s office is public and located at 605 Center St NE. For more information, visit http://hopeandsafety.org/.
For more facts and information about domestic violence, go to http://www.ncadv.org/.